BELGRADE, March 16 (Reuters) - Legal wrangling resumed in Belgrade High Court on Wednesday over a Bulgarian request to extradite the main shareholder in the country’s insolvent Corporate Commercial Bank after the court’s initial decision to extradite him was overturned on appeal.
Bulgarian authorities have been trying for 18 months to secure Tsvetan Vassilev’s extradition to face charges of embezzlement and are growing increasingly frustrated about the deadlock.
Vassilev has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing but refuses to return to Sofia voluntarily, saying he fears for his life and that he does not believe he will be given a fair trial.
Belgrade’s High Court ordered Vassilev’s extradition to Bulgaria a year ago but the Court of Appeals overturned the decision and sent the case back to the lower court, saying its original ruling broke legal procedures and was based on incorrect and incomplete facts.
Bulgaria’s prosecutor’s office said it had sent a second extradition request, including additional charges against Vassilev, to the Serbian authorities in May 2015.
The prosecutor’s office said last month it was seeking a hearing before the European Committee on Crime Problems, a Strasbourg-based body that deals with international legal cooperation, about the difficulties it was having in securing Vassilev’s extradition.
Corporate Commercial Bank was hit by a run on deposits in 2014 and collapsed later that year, triggering Bulgaria’s biggest banking crisis since the 1990s.
Bulgaria’s central bank seized control of the bank, the country’s fourth biggest, and shut it down.
Vassilev blames the deposit run on a plot hatched by his competitors.
“It was a typical raiders’ attack, well-motivated politically and supported by all Bulgarian institutions, and especially by the prosecutors,” Vassilev told reporters after appearing in the court, referring to the run on the bank.
Vladimir Beljanski, Vassilev’s lawyer, said the defence team had presented the court with evidence against his client’s extradition. He said there was no legal deadline to complete the proceedings, which are due to resume on April 6.
Vassilev surrendered to Serbian police in September 2014. He lives freely in Serbia but authorities took his passport away and ordered him to report daily to a police station.
He will again have the option to appeal to the Court of Appeals if the High Court approves his extradition. If the final appeal is rejected, however, Serbia’s justice minister would then have to arrange for Vassilev’s handover to Sofia. (Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, additional reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Adrian Croft and Gareth Jones)